Self-awareness is the key to all successful relationships
My work with the horses revolves around relationships and so I’m often looking out for different articles in the media. Recently I’ve noticed several articles on Facebook and Linked about the importance of building healthy relationships in business, sales, team management and leadership. Often, the way we are taught to build relationship comes from the head, we learn what to do, what to say, how to posture ourselves and even how to be.
What horses teach us is that to truly ‘connect’ we need to come from the heart. But what does that mean? We have so stay open and be authentic. Horses teach us to stay true to ourselves, to honour our feelings of joy and excitement at the same time as honouring our vulnerability, frustration and disappointment. They teach us that each and every interaction is unique and to stay present to what is happening now.
Last week I sat alongside two clients, who had been guided to watch and make notes about their observations and internal feelings, as they watched Jack and Bramble in the field. Initially the two horses were happily grazing, not appearing to notice our arrival. A nearby sound caused Jack to look up and then he walked towards Bramble, put his ears back and appeared to push her around the field. He then walked away. A few moments later Jack returned and he circled Bramble, this time she put her ears back; he moved off. Moments later he came back and circled Bramble again, this time curling his neck around hers. Bramble relaxed and with their teeth they scratched each other just behind their shoulders. This lasted a few minutes and then they separated and went back to grazing. I asked my clients to share their observations, we completed the exercise, talked a little more about personal space and setting boundaries and then each client had the opportunity to ‘build a connection’ with one of the horses. After the session the common observation was the amazement at the dance that happens before any point of physical contact (if indeed that happens at all on the first experience with the horse).They were overwhelmed by the trust and respect that they felt in taking the time to develop a connection in this way.
Over the years I’ve been facilitating this work I’ve found it interesting how often a client assumes that once they have made a connection the horse will automatically do what they want her/him to do! Over time they begin to realise that when they lose their authentic connection (from their heart) and go into an ‘ego’ state of wanting the horse to conform, they also lose the ‘real’ connection with the horse. The value of this experience is self-awareness! Most often, as humans, we are not aware when we go into our heads and disconnect from our heart and bodies. When we disconnect with a horse we literally feel the difference in our bodies. For example, I know that when I try too hard to connect I have a tendency to raise my shoulders, have more shallow breathing and a raised heartbeat. I become too keen to ‘make it happen’. I ‘go into my head’ and think that I need to be this or that, more interesting, more intelligent, more fun etc, instead of accepting myself as I am. Interestingly as soon as I bring awareness to my body my shoulders start to relax, my breathing softens, my heart rate slows and I restore my ability to connect. When this happens the feelings I have are generally a tingling throughout my body and a sense of an open heart.
So, the first step to building all successful relationships with others is self-awareness or the relationship to self. Paradoxically, the way we find out about ourselves is through relationship with others!
Many of us have grown up to adapt from our true selves in order to fit in. Interacting with horses helps us to reclaim our authentic self, to listen, to feel, to recognise the personal space we need and to set healthy boundaries so that we can feel safe and respected. Several of my clients have commented that they had learned more about trust and respect in building relationships in 3 days with the horses than they had in years of therapy!
In my ‘Trust in your Authentic Self’ workshop we develop the theme of relationship. From a place of self-awareness and heart connection we improve the ability to create healthy and successful relationships, authentic community and an authentic style of leadership, with the horses as our teachers and guides. The group/team/community members recognise their similarities and their differences, are able to offer support and receive help and guidance. Each individual is respected for her/his own strengths, talents and areas for development and accordingly the community grow through consensual leadership (when the one who is strongest in their area of expertise is able to step forward and take the lead).
Alternatively, we have an exercise with the horses where an individual might challenge himself to take on a role which is different from his normal choice and in an authentic, supportive environment learn to gain confidence in a new area. E.g. in a group one person may commonly take the lead, another may follow and another support the process. So instead the supporter takes the lead, the leader takes the role of follower and the follower to support the process. By engaging in this activity with a horse, who will respond authentically and in the moment, the group refine their ability in the new role and have more empathy for their fellow team members.
After selling my Riding Centre in 2003 I retrained with Linda Kohanov (http://eponaquest.com) in Arizona to become an Eponaquest Advanced Instructor of Equine Facilitated Learning. Over the two year programme and two further years of CPD, mentoring and therapy I engaged in a huge journey of personal transformation. This process helped me to connect from my heart in a way that I’d never been able to do in my life before, and is now what inspires me to help others to be able to do the same.
For someone who, in the past, overcame shyness with ultra-confidence and introversion with extroversion, often at the expense of being incongruent and disassociating, I have found it so much easier to build relationships from an authentic connection. During the past few years I have created a group of friends who share a common interest in holistic health of humans and horses, I have joined a Women’s Networking group and I have become part of the Medicine Horse Way Team. Recently I have managed to stay present (rather than talking to the clock at the back of the room!) as I have given keynote speeches at 8 groups of WomenMeanBiz (http://womenmeanbiz.co.uk) groups across the South West between Leamington Spa and Exeter and as a result made made new friends, good business connections and partners. I’ve become a part of Carol Roush’s (http://carolroush.com) Medicine Horse Way team and I am currently facilitating in the first ever European Apprenticeship in Equine Facilitated Learning in the UK.
As I have learned to be more true to myself I have been able to be more effective in groups. I know my strengths and where I can add value and I also acknowledge my areas for development, or the roles that don’t suit me. I know what I can bring to the group and I know my limitations. I am able to be vulnerable, knowing that it’s the first step to learning something new and moving forwards again.
We are all vulnerable when we move into a new relationship (whether we acknowledge it or not!) and our success revolves around our self-awareness. So, stay present, connect from the heart and I hope you enjoy many more healthy and fulfilling relationships.